Home
Up
The Next Step

Chapter 8

The Burden of Responsibility

 

It is time now to return to our original problem. Remember that when we began this journey we were looking at a thirteen hundred year old clash between two cultures that had very different views of the role of man in the worldOne developed in the forests of Europe and the other in the Arabian Desert. Through thirteen hundred years the clash has remained largely unchanged. The political nature of the West has changed dramatically during those thirteen hundred years while the East has changed very little. There were two primary forces that led to the changes that took place in the West. The first was the rise of the cities and the subsequent decline of the church as a political force. The second, strangely enough, was the introduction of Aristotelian rational approaches into Western thinking brought about by the early success of Islam. Now we need to reexamine these early ideas from our new perspective concerning what it means to be a human being.

Aquinas developed a view of the validity of government dependent on conditions that would be acceptable to men in a state of innocence. Beginning with the Aristotelian assumption that man is naturally a political animal, he argued from final causes, as Aristotle would. In other words, arguing from the aim of the common good to the necessity, and therefore inevitability, of an authority to bring this common good about. The point is, with Aristotelian assumptions, the emergence of a leader is not only a natural outcome of people living in society. It is a necessary outcome. This is because people, being naturally social animals, not only cannot, but would not, live otherwise.

Thomas Hobbes did not argue from a state of innocence as Aquinas did, but from man in a perpetual state of war. The difference between arguing from a state of war among men who are constantly at each other's throats and arguing from a state of innocence among men who are naturally social, implies a very great difference in the kind of institution required to bring about a just society. This new view required arguing from the need to overcome a state of war amongst all men to a social institution that would bring about a just law-abiding society. Just as important, Hobbes lived in the seventeenth century when the motivation for rational thinking came from Isaac Newton and not Aristotle. We are therefore arguing with a new rational method: that is, starting from definitions, treating them like axioms, and applying logical arguments to them. Hobbes, then, was led to the implication that an absolute sovereign is necessary in order for there to be a peaceful society.

John Locke, played a strong part in the Glorious Revolution, the event that brought stability back to England through a mutual agreement between Parliament and the Crown concerning the extent of each other's powers. He also based his political philosophy on man in the state of nature. He said, "...we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man."

Aquinas set human reason right alongside Natural Law and Divine Law as the three precepts for man living as a social creature. Living through human reason implies for both Aquinas and Locke a responsibility toward the world around them, toward other human beings, and toward oneself. Hobbes, on the other hand, placed the responsibility for creating and maintaining a just society on the power of the sovereign. The three philosophers followed three different traditions based on three different assumptions concerning man in the state of nature.

There is no historical or scientific rationale to support any of these assumptions. In this work, using pure reason applied to concepts that are intuitively acceptable that were developed by scientists who are well respected, I have attempted to develop an understanding of what it means to be a human being, the highest known product of an evolutionary process that began prior to the "Big Bang." Evolution, I have tried to show, began with the "arche" of Anaximander, the "Universal Field" of Einstein, or whatever existed prior to the time of the "Big Bang," and has proceeded with a specific purpose, to give everything that is possible an opportunity to exist. The engine that drives the process of evolution is a combination of physical laws and complex organization. With the advent of man something new has been added. This something new is not some magic out of a genie's bottle. It is a higher level of complexity. Perhaps the best, though obviously weak, example from our contemporary lives would be the programming of a computer with such a high level language that only the computer itself could program it further.

If this is another step in evolution, and the idea seems likely, then the purpose of evolution must still be valid. The difference is that the active driver has been changed from complex organization of basic physical laws to the complex organization of the imagination and abilities of individual men. However, our discussion of social systems has shown that they are created by men to serve the needs of those that have created them. They have no other purpose for existence. In this sense, if the purpose of man is the furtherance of the purpose of evolution, the mechanism for accomplishing this aim must exist only in the mind of the individual human.

 Human's have quite a number of unique characteristics that make them prime candidates for the extension of the process of evolution. Of all of the entities living or not on the planet Earth, there is no other that is known to experience the periodicity of time; therefore there is no other that can witness the panorama of time. It is in this panorama of time that humans build the worlds they interact directly with.

Freedom means more than the capacity for making choices. It means the necessity of making choices. For the action of not choosing is simply another choice. I am aware of no other entity on this planet that shares this trait. The most important property of the exercise of choice is that what is chosen makes a difference. Every choice represents a shift in the panorama of time, a shift that cannot be reversed. Choices are only made by individual humans. With or without the aid of computers or rule books, each individual is responsible for the effects of his choice, expected or not.

It is the necessity of choice, not the possibility of choice, which creates the burden of responsibility. Since no person can avoid choosing, no person can avoid modifying the universe in which he acts. It might seem natural and comfortable, as in reacting to the conversation of gestures of an infant. it might feel desperate, as in reacting to an angry teenager. But in all cases where one person is reacting to the activities of another there is learning taking place. Every action taken in response to another's action will result in a change in both parties. At times the effects might seem innocuous, and at other times, even a minor confrontation can cause dramatic changes in the interactions. The point is that this is the way we interact. This makes each of us responsible to some extent for the effects we have on those we interact with.

John Locke said, "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one; and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." This statement, made at a time when Newtonian science was the reigning source of truth, rings true. But, does it come furnished with the attribute of necessity? Or is it simply another of Locke's assumptions in direct opposition to Hobbes? We have seen, from the detailed description of evolution, and man's role in it, that the highest level of the engine of evolution lies in the imagination and capabilities of the individual human. This makes Locke's intuition only the seed of the responsibility that human's owe to each other.

The difference between the philosophy of government provided by the eighteenth century English philosophers and what we have developed here is the difference between a view of what is, and a view of what is possible. If we can get away from killing each other and piling up vast amounts of power and money, then perhaps we can open our eyes to the seemingly unlimited horizon of possibilities. Once done, the burden of responsibility becomes the gate to opportunity. The panorama of time becomes the vista of the future. The two contrasting cultures we began with share the same problem: They mistake the importance of social constructs for the role of individual creativity. Both of them, each in its own way, stifle the creativity of their citizens under the oppressive weight of social systems that should instead be opening up to the unlimited possibilities of the future.

The cultural clash the people of our planet are facing has nothing to do with religion. No one is trying to convert Moslems to Christianity or Christians to Islam. If you slice off the cultural facades you would find it very difficult to find anything in any of the worlds religions that is not compatible with all of the others. It might be possible to imagine a world without the Taj Mahal, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Angkor Wat, or any other of the great edifices of our worlds religions. But would you really want to live there? I would like to use the words Rebecca Goldstein, a Jewish philosopher and author of Betraying Spinoza, used in an interview for the Jewish newsletter "Nextbook Reader" to make a point I would like to think she would agree with. Spinoza was probably the greatest of the seventeenth century rationalist philosophers. He was Jewish and his unusual brilliance resulted in his being excommunicated, yet he remained faithful to his heritage. This was her answer to the question, what was the gist of his Ethics.

That we can answer, through the exercise of reason, the basic questions that religion, and the kabbalah in particular, wrestle with. We can understand why the world must exist, and why it must exist exactly as it does existóbecause logic dictates it does. That gives Spinoza a way of answering the problem of suffering: The world wasn't created with any particular viewpoint towards making us comfortable, and so, bad things will, of course, happen. But we can rise above it all. We can make for ourselves, purely by thinking, a life worth living. We don't need religions founded on authority or scripture or revelation.

But a world devoid of Hassidic Jews, where one could never hear a Ba-Hai chant or the call of the muezzin would be far too sterile even for an old agnostic like me. Evolution is the force that drives the universe. It's purpose is to provide an opportunity for anything that is possible to come into being. The creative imagination of the human mind increases exponentially the realm of the possible. However, not everything that can be should be. In the power of choice, born only by man and not shared by any other creature on the planet, lies the ultimate burden of responsibility.